Exploring the Discourse of One's Major through Hypertext
This assignment is derived from the Field Research chapter in Kiniry and Rose's (1993) Critical Strategies for Academic Thinking and Writing, 2nd ed., pages 774-782.
You will write 5 primary lexia which will form the basis of an analysis of your major. The analysis should synthesize the material you gathered for the 5 primary documents. The 5 primary documents are as follows:
The self-survey is a written reflection about your choice of major: if you've already decided upon a major, write about how you came to that decision; if you haven't decided yet, write about the majors that interest you and why you are attracted to them (for the purposes of this essay, you will want to decide which major holds the most promise for you, so you can use this as a "narrowing-down" process).
I would recommend that you do this first as a freewriting--write whatever comes to mind without stopping or censoring yourself, and don't stop until you have several pages of text. After you have completed the other four parts, come back to this survey and write a page or two about whether your initial impressions of the major have been confirmed or overturned, or if you have changed you mind about pursuing this major.
Two of the following:
Views from Inside the Discipline
- A Classroom Lecture
- Attend a lecture in one of the introductory courses in your major (it can be a course you are taking, but it needn't be) With the permission of the instructor, tape recored this lecture while also taking notes. Later, with the help of your notes and the tape recording, summarize the lecture. Besides the actual content of the lecture, what else could you notice? Did you notice anything about the language of the lecture or the values of the lecturer? Did certain terms recur? Were there assumptions that everyone in the classroom seemed to share? Did the lecture depend entirely upon words, or did the presentation also depend upon visual elements such as charts, slides, objects, physical demonstrations, or multi-media computer presentations? Did the instructor involve the student audience in the presentation? Did student participation seem integral or only peripheral?
- An Introductory Textbook
- Locate an introductory textbook and scan its contents. How is its material organized? What sems to receive major emphasis? Which points about the discipline seem to be most basic? What are some of the key terms and concepts that you notice recurring? Do the explanations depend upon words only, oor do illustrations also play a major role? What about statistics, tables, and graphs? Overall, what sort of reader does the textbook seem to call for?
- The Discussion Group, Quiz Section, or Lab Presentation
- Attend one of these more participatory classes. How does the language of this meeting differ from that of a lecture? How do you account for the differences? What constants carry over from a lecture to these smaller classes?
- The Conference or Tutoring Session
- This can be a session of your own or one you observe--though you may meet some reluctance here, since tutorial sessions tend to be private. If you do get to observe such a session, you'll want to reflect on what differences you notice between the language of this session and other forms of academic discourse you've looked at, differences in language, in tone, in the behavior of the participants.
- Student Writing
- See if you can locate examples of writing--either papers or exams--produced by students in your major. What is expected of student writers in this major? What distinguishes a good performance from a not so good one? How are papers organized? What role i played by non-textual elements such as figures, tables, graphs, or images? How do instructors respond to these papers? Some departments and/or instructors keep sample essays and assignments on file (you may want to check at the Writing Place too)--if you can get ahold of some of these examples, analyze them fro recurring questions, themes, and jargon or technical language requirements.
- A Club Meeting
- Attend a club meeting associated with the major you are investigating. Do the people at the meeting share a common perspective? Are diverse views represented? Are there faculty present? Is the language used in the meeting different from the language used in texts and classes related to the major? See if you can find out the history of the club and explain how it enhances or changes the major you are examining.
- A Student Interview
- Interview a student majoring in the field. Use what you have learned thus far to ask meaningful questions (i.e. make sure you have some background on the major before doing this one). Ask questions not only about the courses and teachers in this major, but also about the language and central concepts of the discipline. Is the person you inerview aware of any disagreements within the field? What does he or she know about how the professors in thsi field spend their research time? Is the field interdisciplinary? Is it changing? Who are considered leaders in the discipline?
Two of the following:
Views from Further Inside the Discipine
- Journal Articles
- In the library, locate titles of representative journals in the field you are researching (you may need to consult students, professors, or librarians to find out which journals are the "big" ones in that field). Select five or six volumes of journals and scan the titles and abstracts (if available) of articles. Choose two or three articles to read. Do the titles, abstracts, and articles seem accessible to you, or are they made too difficult for the unitiated due to the use of jargon or technical language? Do you notice any words or kinds of words that are used more often than others? Locate some journal articles by our faculty in this field--can you make any connections between articles you find and the classes taught on our campus?
- Scholarly Books and Monographs
- Go to the area in the library where books on your field are located (ask the reference librarian for help if you are uncertain). Browse awhile, stopping to look through any books that catch your interest. Skim prefaces, introductions, opening and concluding chapters. Can you form any conclusions? What observations can you make about the language of the books you examine?
- See if you can discover which are the most prominent conferences of your discipline; or you may learn of a specially convened conference or one-time gathering, organized to address issues of special concern. Often the proceedings of such conferences are published and there is usually a program of activities printed for participants. If you can located one of these documents, examine it and take note of the following questions: What do the various presentations have in common? How do they differ? What can you notice about their language? What else, besides formal presentations, seems to go on at these conferences? What seem to be the hottest or most controversial subjects of discussion? Do certain names seem especially prominent? Which terms recur most frequently?
- Public Lectures
- A public lecture by a scholar in your discipline is often, though not always, an effort to cross disciplinary boundaries; the audience at such lectures usually consists of people who are interested nonspecialists. The speaker is forced to present what he or she has to say in a way that is comprehensible to people interested by not necessarily well versed in the discipline. If you attend this sort of public lecture, record it and take notes. Does the language seem to differ from the language of textbooks, or journal article, or conferences?
- Descriptions of Graduate School
- The best way to find out about opportunities for graduate studies in your field is through discussion and interviews, but if you can't arrange these, you can still learn a good deal from graduate catalogues. Locate a few and flip through them. How do graduate course offerings differ from undergraduate ones? What are graduate students expected to do?
- Interview of a Graduate Student or a Professor
- Do an interview with an academic insider from your discipline. Let your previous research inform the questions you ask. Be thinking about how your interview can help you in writing a paper about your investigations.
As you write the primary lexia, consider how you want to create links between and among those lexia and the analysis.
Questions to help guide the writing of the synthesis
- What are the discipline's fundamental assumptions or driving questions?
Are they fairly stable now or are they in a state of flux?
- What are the discipline's fundamental methods of inquiry? What are the strengths and
weaknesses of those methods?
- What are the most important forms of discourse in your field? How does the most important work get done?
- How important is writing in your discipline, and where would one go to find examples of good writing?
- When students first come to your discipline, what difficulties are they apt to have in handling its discourse--whether with writing , reading, listening, or speaking?
Make sure you use specific examples and quote the sources you have collected. (Use standard MLA style documentation--you may want to note how documentation in your field differs from what you are required to use for this report, too.)
Now that you have made connections between your own lexia, it is time to make connections between your research into the discourse of your major and the research done by your peers. Read as many of the webs as you can (you are required to read a minimum of 5 but I encourage you to read more), beginning with those which are about your major or a major closely related to yours. Find passages in these webs which agree or disagree with your findings. Explore ways in which you can create links and lexia which allow your essay to engage in a "discussion" with the other essays in the class. Don't limit yourself to your chosen major--you should also examine the differences and similarities between your major and majors that you feel are completely unlike yours. Create links and lexia which examine those differences and similarities.
You may wish to form working relationships with the authors of the lexia you wish to appropriate; it may be useful to engage in an actual conversation between authors as well as creating a textual conversation at the intersections of your works.
Follow the path.
To the path of Theory.
View the Index
Contact the author!